Friday, May 24, 2013

Journal Prompt: Alphabet Stories

I got this idea over a decade ago from a Japanese friend of mine. I'm sure it's been done before in the U.S., but I haven't seen it in my (admittedly limited) personal library of books about writing with kids.

My friend told me about a story she'd written when she was a little girl, and it went through the alphabet, starting with a king (Aiue-Oosama, or King Aiue. The first five letters of the Japanese alphabet are A, I, U, E, and O). It was very clever, and I've always wanted to try something like it.

The prompt
This is probably better for upper elementary kids and older. It can be a quick writing prompt or it could become a more finished piece, like a book:

Write a story or a paragraph about anything, in which every sentence starts with a letter of the alphabet, starting with A and working your way through to Z.

I gave Tai the prompt and said I'd do it too. Tai sat and happily wrote twenty-six sentences—more than he's ever done in one sitting in his life. I could hardly believe it. It might be the longest thing he's ever written.

Why it works
I think this worked because it helped him to focus on just one sentence at a time (bird by bird, as it were), instead of a whole idea. The letter challenge gave him an excuse to be less than perfect, and move on. That is, he didn't get bogged down trying to convey his very abstract thinking or create a complex narrative; all he had to do to meet the challenge was think of a sentence that started with the appropriate letter and that sort of worked with his theme.

Another possible reason: Of course, he wanted to see what I wrote right away, and compare. My own sentences weren't great, and they were silly. I'm sure he thought, “I can do better than that,” which always motivates him.

  • Take turns. One person writes a sentence for one letter, the next person writes a sentence for the next letter, etc.
  • Drop the idea of a narrative frame or a paragraph; just make a list of sentences.
  • Or keep the frame and simply require one word somewhere in the sentence to start with the alphabet letter.
  • Just make a list of words. Or if you're working with grammar, a list of verbs. Or adjectives. Or proper nouns. I did it with adjectives once, because Tai could not remember what they were and how they worked. Thinking of twenty-six helped him.  
  • Revising and adding illustrations could make this into a fun book.
  • I think there must be lots of other ways to play with this idea—elaborate or simplify as you please.

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